Child sexual abuse survivors have criticized long delays in the federal government’s national reparations program, with one expert saying some elderly survivors are dying while awaiting compensation.
- The program aimed to pay compensation for reparations to 80% of those who filed a claim within six months
- The latest annual report from the Department of Social Services shows the program resolved only 27% of cases
- Survivors say the long wait is traumatic again, and advocates say it’s clear the program needs more resources to meet its goals
The program, run by the Department of Social Services, was supposed to pay reparations to 80 percent of those who applied within six months.
But new figures show that only a third of the cases have been resolved so far.
Among those still on the waiting list is Liz Allen, one of Australia’s best-known demographers.
Externally, she has led a very successful life in academia, but at the root of it all is the sexual abuse she suffered for several years in a Catholic elementary school.
She said it completely derailed her life.
Ms Allen said she was not believed when she first disclosed the abuse, which made her reluctant to seek the redress regime.
âI was afraid that someone would see me as taking advantage or attempting to take advantage of something quite horrible,â she said.
“I guess I was quite hesitant to do it because of the fear of being connected to him [her abuser] even more than in the past. “
Inspired by the experiences of others to come forward
In the end, Ms Allen said it was Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame and the March for Justice that spurred her on to action, and even then it came at a cost.
âSince I inserted this app, I have relived every event to make sure my memory is correct,â she said.
Ms Allen said that after submitting her application, she initially heard very little about the redress regime.
Then she got a call from the police about her case, which was out of the process.
She said the scheme had since acknowledged that her details had been mistreated.
Ms Allen has now learned that her case has been expedited and that she is currently supported by a social worker.
Lawyer Simon Bruck, who runs KnowMore, the legal department set up to help those seeking redress, said long wait times were a common experience.
“Unfortunately, people have been waiting for more than 12 months for their application to be processed.”
The program will accept applications until 2027 and will apply to those who were abused before July 2018.
Survivors who apply to the plan are eligible for a payment of up to $ 150,000, although the average compensation payment is approximately $ 85,000.
Survivors are also entitled to an apology and a direct personal response if they wish, as well as payment for psychological support.
There have been just over 10,000 applications to date.
No less than 1,500 sites recognized as responsible for abuse
A recent report shows that up to March of this year 1,500 sites, including schools, orphanages and religious groups, had been found responsible for abuse.
This resulted in repair payments to over 5,000 people, totaling $ 445 million.
But the latest annual report from the Department of Social Services shows the program resolved just 27% of cases in six months, well below its target of 80%.
The government has said it is concerned about the delays and is trying to help, with a recent increase in funding of more than $ 11 million to help reduce wait times.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services said one of the main reasons for the delays was the number of complex requests, with 83% of people citing more than one institution, compared to 23% according to the royal commission estimate.
The spokesperson said there was another reason why organizations signed up for the program.
All Commonwealth and State agencies and many Church organizations have joined.
But for Jane Brown (not her real name) it wasn’t.
The gated community where she was abused at age 14 did not initially enroll in the program.
She said there were more than 10 other people who were also abused, all around the same age.
âI would say there were two main aggressors in this situation, and they held a lot of power within this organization,â Ms. Brown said.
The organization eventually signed, but Ms Brown is still awaiting redress two years after starting her fight.
And delays can mean some survivors never see justice.
Mr Bruck said there have been deceased clients awaiting compensation and there were other even sadder situations.
“Finally, we have an answer”
Ken McDonald, who was abused as a child in an orphanage, received a decision on his claim two days before his 86th birthday – 18 months after he filed his papers.
Recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the repair process sparked memories of abuse for Mr. McDonald from his time as a ward of the state.
Now convinced that he won’t end up in a “house” again, he wants to use his repair money to renovate his daughter Belinda’s house and add an extra room that he and his wife can move into.
Despite his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mr. McDonald recalled asking for the remedy diet.
“He remembers that [the redress application] started and he’s like ‘When is all this going to happen? Will I always be there? Why is it taking so long? There are all these questions going through her head, âsaid her daughter Belinda.
She said while the family was relieved to have finally received a decision, they were frustrated with the length of the process.
âWe know how to plan for now,â she said.
“I hate the word closure so I’m not going to use it, but it was just that, ultimately, we have an answer, we don’t have to wait.”
New laws mean government can pay redress on behalf of certain organizations
Mr Bruck said it was clear the recourse regime needed more resources to be able to meet its goals.
But he said a law passed last week could help some survivors currently exclude the compensation system.
The new law will allow governments to step in and pay on behalf of institutions that have not joined the program.
“It is because there are institutions that have disappeared, they no longer exist or [have] other technical reasons why they cannot join the program, âhe said.
But this is not automatic and Mr. Bruck calls on governments to speed up the list of organizations concerned.
Although it is little comfort for those waiting in the queue.
Ms Allen said she feared passing on the trauma of what had happened to her to her children. She said she hoped she could finally get some advice.
But she said her main motivation for applying for the program was validation and admission from authorities that what had happened was wrong.
âThe church has robbed me so much,â she said.
“I finally want the recognition that I sought as a 12 year old child seeking help and denied this help that this has happened and that there have been other victims.”